Whether this year or next, expect the federal government to enact a food-safety bill, the Council for Responsible Nutrition predicts.
"The House passed its version of the bill in July, and I expect the Senate bill will pass in the next month," said Mike Greene, senior director, government relations, CRN, in early December. "It may be rolled up into another bill, it may be five hours before they recess, but I don't think there is any major opposition to the food safety bills that would keep it from passing."
If the Senate bill passes, it is impossible to say how long it would take for the two bills to conference, and then to go to President Obama for his signature. As there are some major differences between the bills, it may take some time, Greene said.
The food safety bills contain many provisions, which, once passed, will take effect on a rolling time table — some provisions in 60 days, others in 180 days, and so forth. As far as dietary supplements are concerned, and conventional foods where dietary supplements are involved, the two bills differ in several ways.
"The House bill has a provision for country-of-origin labelling, which the Senate bill does not," Greene said. "The House bill also has user-fees for the registration of facilities; the Senate bill would appropriate money for the necessary provisions. This is one of the reasons CRN supports the Senate bill."
In an earlier draft of the House bill, the user fees were $1,000 per facility. They were reduced to $500 per facility, which is obviously an improvement, Greene said, but CRN believes there should be no user fees at all.
Both bills contain mandatory recall authority, in which the FDA can recall dangerous food, including dietary supplements, which CRN supports, as well as re-inspection fees for facilities that fail their initial safety inspections, which CRN does not support.
"CRN's concern with re-inspection fees is that we believe the government has a certain responsibility to inspect facilities," Greene said. "This is 'good government', which our tax dollars are supposed to pay for. Once you start charging fees for failed inspections, there is the concern that some may not do their job."
Whatever ends up being enacted into law, however, CRN is prepared to support it, Greene said. "We support food safety, and at the end of the day, we will support whatever takes effect."
Once passed, the new law will help bring the United States "up to speed" with some other countries around the world in the arena of food safety and inspections. "I have heard that Japan has an extremely high level of precaution for food safety, and though we may not quite live up to their standards immediately, the new food safety legislation would make the US more comparable to what is currently done in Europe," Greene said.